Saturday Star’s article, “Schoolboys to answer to severe assault charges” (13/06/09, p. 41) is one to get mad about. The article was about a 14-year old boy who was allegedly severely assaulted and robbed on a school bus, after school, by other learners. His mother reported the incident to the police, and opened a complaint of assault with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm. Saturday Star directly identified the child who is a child witness. In doing so, they contravened the Criminal Procedure Act, and failed to protect the best interests of the child.

The report published both the child’s and his mother’s full name and their pictures, clearly identifying the child.

Given that the incident is being investigated by the police, the child is a witness under the Criminal Procedure Act, and his identity should not be revealed by the media.

Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act No.51 of 1977 states categorically: “No person shall publish in any matter whatever any information which reveals or may reveal the identity of an accused under the age of eighteen years or of a witness at criminal proceedings who is under the age of eighteen years.”

Revealing the child’s identity, and publishing the details of the incident, failed to protect the best interests of the child and may put the child at risk.

This is particularly the case as it was made clear in the article that the school was not happy with the media involvement and that the alleged perpetrators reportedly threatened to harm the boy if he reported the incident.

The incident is alleged to have taken place two days prior to the publication of the story.The article suggested that the school accused the mother of trying to damage the school’s reputation by “bringing along the Saturday Star before speaking to the school about the incident”, and that the school is in the process of carrying out its own investigations.

Given this, the involvement of the media may actually be detrimental to the child’s best interests and may worsen relations with the school, both staff and learners.

Saturday Star also published a photograph of the badly bruised child. The child might not have wanted such a descriptive picture of him published. The article was also very descriptive as it stated “the doctor found that [ ]2 had suffered a broken rib, a cut lower lip, a damaged outer layer of his eye and two loose teeth”. Publishing these details may violate the child’s right to privacy and dignity. He may be humiliated when he goes back to school and the details might bring back bad memories of what happened on the day.

It may be, as it is suggested in the article, that the mother was keen to use the media to bring attention to her child’s situation and ensure actions were taken. However, the media has its own legal and ethical responsibilities to protect the best interests of the child.

Directly identifying a child who is a victim and a child witness contravenes legal and ethical codes. The media should always be careful when reporting on children and take their best interest into account before anything else.


1 Media Monitoring Africa has concealed any names or faces that may directly or indirectly reveal the identity of the child concerned.
2 Ibid.